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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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St. Pete offers online system to boost sales in rundown homes

ST. PETERSBURG — The heavy toll that the housing-market crash took on St. Petersburg is plotted on a four-foot map in the office of Mike Dove, city neighborhood affairs administrator.

Red dots on the map represent more than 800 vacant or boarded up homes. A rash of more than 5,000 blue marks show the location of every home in some stage of foreclosure.

Many of the homes are concentrated in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, including south St. Petersburg where many vacant homes have fallen into disrepair, dragging down the value of neighboring properties and attracting criminals including drug dealers.

Using $8.3 million of federal stimulus funds, the city during the past few years has bought 86 derelict properties with 23 rehabbed and sold to new owners and another 16 undergoing renovation. But the scale of the problem has led to a recognition that it also will take considerable private investment to turn around many neighborhoods.

Now, the city wants to encourage that investment with a new online tool intended to help developers and housing charities identify neighborhoods where home values are more likely to rise because more nearby homes are owned by the people who live there or because they are close to schools, parks and other amenities.

That could make a crucial difference in convincing developers to put money in areas where profit margins after buying and renovating a home remain slim, Dove said.

“The values in a lot of these areas are very low,” Dove said. “It’s very hard to attract people to build homes here because you can lose money.”

Using the online system, which the city plans to launch in about two weeks, potential investors can zoom down to street level to see how many homes are boarded up or vacant, recent sales data and homes listed for demolition. It also shows how many are owner occupied, regarded as a crucial indicator that residents are invested in their community.

The information already is available in a variety of sources, but city officials hope that compiling it in one place will make it easier for developers and help them to see areas considered run-down in a new light.

For example, parts of Palmetto Park are close to the Grand Central business district and the Deuces. It also is close to the Pinellas Trail.

“That can become an area that I know will grow in value because it has assets around it,” Dove said.

The new system will benefit nonprofit groups that build or rehab homes so they can target areas where their spending will have the most transformative impact on a neighborhood, said Ron Spoor, chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas.

The group, which usually builds new houses, is planning to begin a rehab program in St. Petersburg that initially will seek to restore seven homes.

Their target is a low-income neighborhood where a high number of people own their own home.

“If there are more homesteaded properties, you can envision a greater chance of success with the rehab program we are envisioning,” Spoor said.

The tool is only one plan of attack to turn around rundown areas.

Dove wants to speed up demolition of condemned houses and to create an incentive program for people who renovate homes and properties to rent them out. The city only offers rehab incentives for homes that will be then sold.

He is also working to attract more private developers and non-profits into the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

That includes Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, a housing charity that works mainly in Hillsborough County. Dove met recently with leaders of the group, which now plans to expand its housing rehab operation in Pinellas.

The online tool will enable the group to identify foreclosed properties in areas where it is rehabbing homes and appeal to the bank or lender to donate the property.

“That way we can make a bigger impact on the block,” Garcia said.

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Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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